French Connection

Bistro Niko brings a slice of Paris to Buckhead

Only something magnificent could serve as the anchor of Buckhead’s tony Sovereign building. The tallest mixed-use skyscraper in Atlanta, it’s also an architectural masterpiece and one of the few pieces of commercial real estate in the city that can claim more than 90 percent of its space leased.

And only the Buckhead Life Restaurant Group—one of the most respected fine dining establishments in the country—could pull off an authentic, French-inspired bistro in such a manner that it serves no less than 300 guests each night.

This is Pano I. Karatassos, after all, the man who in 2001 flew in massive white marble columns from Greece for the opening of Kyma, a restaurant paying homage to his family’s Greek heritage. It’s hard to imagine that it’s been nearly 10 years since the Buckhead Life Restaurant Group has debuted a new concept in Atlanta. But, as Bistro Niko proves, good things come to those who wait.

The menu—described as “regional, comfort French cuisine”—is the product of a food development mission by Karatassos, his sons Pano and Niko (the bistro’s namesake) and Executive Chef Gary Donlick to immerse themselves in French culture and whet their appetites for modern Parisian fare. The dining tour, which included Gallic greats such as Chez Georges, Aux Lyonnais and L’Atelier de Joel Robuchon, is chronicled in framed black-and-white photographs in the hallway leading to the restaurant’s bathrooms.

But it was Bill Johnson, of The Johnson Studio, who brought Karatassos’ vision of vintage bistro ambience to life. The sense of drama begins at the entrance, where a wrought-iron light fixture, inspired by the enclosed entrances of Paris metros, beckons. A short walk through the entry reveals a glimpse into Bistro Niko’s open, glassed-in kitchen, complete with a hanging rack for charcuterie and a raw seafood display.

In the main dining room, romantic details rule. Low-slung booths and banquettes are upholstered in crimson red leather with nailhead trim, white subway tiles dress up walls and load-bearing columns while blonde, unfinished floors add rustic flair. The most dynamic element: a ceiling installation featuring more than 130 individual lights encased in floral globes crafted by local artist Martin Dawe, surrounded by dozens of architectural plaster swirls.

Bistro Niko excels in finding a harmonious balance between bistro classics and modern sensibilities. Here, traditional French dishes are meant to be shared, from charcuterie plates with cured meats, pates and terrines to flavorful “tarte” pizzas and a rillettes de porc spread. Other contemporary takes include Kobe beef cheeks in place of a tougher cut in the beef bourguignon. Plus, there’s an emphasis on local and regional ingredients, like the white Gulf shrimp in the crevettes en pâte de brique and Georgia Mountain trout in the truite amandine.

That sense of balance is also evident in the design, which includes both the high—think Venetian and trumeau mirrors, antique light fixtures and architectural detailing on the grand ceiling—and the low, like the ceramic rooster holding court over the bar and colorful vintage posters in the dining room.

The centerpiece of the restaurant is the kidney-shaped zinc bar, home to an extensive collection of craft beers, wines and cordials. The product of a specific design challenge—the 50-story Sovereign building has unique architectural quirks that influenced the layout of this airy, ground-floor space—it’s the perfect spot to unwind over cocktails.

But the ultimate joie de vivre is experienced from the red awning-covered sidewalk tables, overlooking the hustle and bustle of Peachtree Road while sipping champagne and savoring oysters on the half-shell. C’est magnifique!

Bistro Niko, 3344 Peachtree Rd. NW, Atlanta 30326. (404) 261-6456